I remember that he’s married now, so I ask about his wife.
“Pregnant,” he says.
I wait for details, but he only adds, “Very pregnant.”
Out of decency, I think to congratulate him, recite some drivel about how happy I am for him, how I wish him nothing but the best—all lies.
“How’ve you been?” he asks. Such a generic question, but there’s a hint of genuine concern in his voice, as if he’s picked up on my misery. I make no effort to hide it, and he had always been empathetic toward my feelings, even when he was the cause of my grief.
I look up into his eyes, and their weariness makes me feel safe. Reason would convince me that his visible tiredness is because of a demanding wife who, big with child, has driven him to take extra shifts—ringing up chips and smokes for night owls and runaways like me would be less strenuous than whatever hormonal crisis is unfolding at home—but I hold on to hope that seeing me again for the first time in five years has brought him to hate his own life, as I do mine.
“I’m being stalked by my boyfriend,” I tell him.
He laughs at what he thinks is an obvious joke, and a customer I don’t hear approach from behind taps my shoulder. His touch sends a surge down my arm as if I’ve just been electrocuted, and I feel I could literally jumped out of my own skin. I drop my bag of nabs along with the liter bottle of water onto the floor and curse under my breath for allowing myself to get distracted.
“Excuse me, ma’am, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he says. He bends down to help me, but I shoo him away and quickly gather my things—I’ve stayed too long. What good will it do me to explain to an ex—one who’s happily married—that I’ve continued making bad choices, even after he was out of my life? I’d only be giving Craig more time to find me and force me back into his bed. I’ve wasted enough time; I must leave.
But I make the mistake of turning back before I exit the door, and he stares at me as he takes cash from the other customer.
I am still frozen by the door when the man brushes past, giving me a faint smile as he exists, and we are again left alone in this silent gas station convenience store save for the hum of the coolers on the back wall to remind us that we are still being watched.
“Why don’t you call the police?” he asks.
I’ve tried. Even as they promote campaigns to end domestic violence, to look for the signs, to pay closer attention to the most subtle ones, they don’t believe me. The absence of physical scars doesn’t help, and the fact that they know Craig further discredits my case.
“He is the police,” I say.
“Damn.” He drums his fingertips against the counter. I notice the nails are clipped too close to his skin, and I wonder if he still makes a habit of chewing them. He turns his head toward the short-circuit television, which displays the security camera footage in the store, and I step back, just out of shot, as another customer walks in, drawing the air conditioning outside with a draft. The bell above the door jingles, and I glance down at the time on my wrist watch. Fifteen minutes and counting.
“Hey.” He comes from behind the counter, and in two strides he is inches from me. I can feel his warm, steady breath blow just above my forehead. I forget how tall he is. He towers over me. I remember how he frightened me at times, even more when we argued. Now his eyes show a fierce anger, the deep amber in his irises pops out as in those of a predator, and all I want to do is fall into his arms like a damsel.
“I get off at eleven. Will you wait?” he asks.
I know I shouldn’t, and it’s selfish of me to keep him from his growing family, to worry him with my own feeble problems, especially when I’ve done this to myself. My eyes roll closed, and I imagine how different my life would be if five years ago I had only said those four simple words he was desperate to hear come back to him as he cradled the velvet ring box behind his back.
Original posted on May 31, 2017.